8th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Corinthians 10 and 11
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Jack Wurm was walking along the shore of a beach on the California Coast. He was thinking about his life and all of his troubles and was almost penniless. When something caught his eye. It was a bottle with a letter rolled up inside of it. Intrigued, he smashed the bottle and read the note, it read: “I Daisy Alexander do hereby will my entire estate to the lucky person who finds this note and to my attorney Barry Cohen. Share and share alike.” At first he was about to throw the note away as nonsense, but he folded it up and stuck in his coat. Sometime later he asked a friend who was a lawyer about the note. He was afraid people would think him to be a fool if he actually believed it and looked into it. But his friend said, “You’d be a bigger fool if you don’t check it out.” He did investigate it, it took him to the highest courts of the US, the evidence showed clearly that this Daisy Alexander was real, that she lived in London, and was an heiress of the Singer sewing fortune. She had made a separate will put it in a bottle and dropped it in the Thames river. It took 11.5 years but ended up in the place where Jack Wurm found it. He inherited 6 million dollars and $80,000 per year of company stock. Jack could have thrown the message away, rejected it as foolish, and remained a relatively poor man. But since he sought the evidence and investigated the matter, that which first appeared foolish turned out to be a remarkable reality and a great reward.
Now that story is probably nothing more than an urban legend and not really true, but it does illustrate a valid point: That which might first appear foolish can with some investigation turn out to be a remarkable reality and a great reward. And how fitting that is when we think about the Lord’s Supper and what the Lord’s Supper really is. Usually twice a month here at St. Mark’s we set aside a portion of our Sunday morning worship service where everyone who has had opportunity to learn what we believe and teach at St. Mark’s and has confessed their unity in faith with us by officially joining our congregation comes forward and receives a little wafer of bread and a sip of wine. On the outward appearance it may look so foolish- why use up so much time? Why eat and drink when it doesn’t come close to satisfying physical hunger or thirst? It seems so silly and foolish. And yet, if we don’t investigate what this exactly is, not only will we be bigger fools, but we’ll also miss out on a remarkable reality and a rich reward.
We can tell very clearly from the gospel account of Jesus’ institution what it is that we receive in the Lord’s Supper, but the blessings are so awesome that God wants us to be sure. Here in 1 Corinthians we are given yet again another description of what we’re receiving in the Supper. The congregation in Corinth, Greece to whom Paul first wrote the letter of Corinthians had a bunch of problems. One of the problems that they had concerned an abuse of the Lord’s Supper. They didn’t have to do this, but they celebrated the Lord’s Supper at the same time as they celebrated a larger fellowship meal. They didn’t have large churches with fellowship halls to host large gatherings. Rather, they usually gathered at a member’s house. Typically, the wealthier members of the church were the ones to host the gathering. Well, what seemed to happen was the wealthier member who hosted the fellowship meal was a little troubled thinking about how much his bill was going to be if he hosted this meal week after week after week. So, this attitude started to permeate the congregation, “I’ll provide for myself and the other wealthier people, but the poor people can provide for themselves.” So the rich, in order to save money for themselves, ate in the dining room, while the poor were forced to eat outside in the porticos. So the poor people came for Christian love and were forced to bring their own meager food and were shamed.
That selfish attitude is completely contradictory to what is going on in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is not something to be treated lightly because of the awesome reality of what it is and the incredible blessing that it gives us. What Jesus says when He instituted the Lord’s Supper and what God says through Paul in 1 Corinthians can be understood only if there is something far greater going on in the Lord’s Supper than a mere representation or sign or symbol of Jesus’ body and blood.
First of all, there is the need for clarity in what we’re told about the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instituted it on the night He was betrayed, Maundy Thursday, within hours He would be dying on the cross. And Jesus wants to give His disciples and all His people something before He leaves them. This wasn’t the time for jokes, this wasn’t the time to speak in figurative language, this wasn’t the time to make confusing statements. Jesus says very clearly, “This IS my body…this IS my blood.” In fact, it’s so serious a thing, that we’re told that taking it in an unworthy manner – that is, refusing to repent of some sin or not recognizing that it is Jesus’ body and blood – will result in eating and drinking harm on oneself.
Next, consider the person who instituted the Lord’s Supper. If this was any ordinary human being speaking the words, “This is my body,” we would have reason to doubt it, consider that person a deceiver, and reject the simple, plain meaning of the words. But this isn’t just any ordinary person! This is Jesus! This is the Son of God! This is the one who is the essence of truth itself, this is the one who has infinite wisdom and infinite power to back up what he says and make His body and blood truly present! And Jesus has the power to be present in many different ways. It’s not His general presence in the fact that Jesus is present everywhere, nor is it Jesus’ special presence as He promises to be with us always, He has a very special presence- a sacramental presence where Jesus’ own body and blood are truly present in, with, and under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Yes, we can’t explain it, yes it goes beyond science, yes it is miraculous and supernatural, but Jesus can do that.
And finally, notice what God says in 1 Corinthians 10:16, the sacramental bread is a “joint partaking” of Christ’s body and the sacramental cup is a “joint partaking” of His blood. Notice it isn’t just a “joint partaking” of Christ, like we enjoy a special spiritual connection with Jesus, but rather, it is a joint partaking of body and blood. Jesus’ body and blood are present together with the bread and the wine in an incredible way.
Well, why is it so important for us to recognize this? It’s because we are so unworthy. The reality is, each of us has an overwhelming need of forgiveness. The path that we live on isn’t a straight down the middle road, rather, we hover at the brink of a ditch on either side. At many times we’re on the brink of becoming self-righteous Pharisees, thinking that we’re doing fine in life, forgiveness, God’s Word, the Lord’s Supper, we know they’re there, but we don’t really need them. We’re doing fine on our own. God can take the back seat for a while. How eager were we to hear God’s Word this morning? How eager are we to crack open our Bibles during the week? How eager are we to receive the Lord’s Supper? If we don’t have an overwhelming sense that we NEED forgiveness and NEED the Supper, it’s because we have a spiritual disease deadening us to our true spiritual condition – a dangerous place to be! Then we spend the other times of our life on the other side of the road hovering over the ditch of despair. “Could God really forgive me for what I’ve done?” “If God really forgives me, why does the horror of my past sins still haunt me?” “Will I really go to heaven when I die?”
Then there’s the devil. Martin Luther said, “The devil is a liar, to lead the heart astray from God’s Word and to blind it so that you cannot feel your distress or come to Christ. He is a murderer, who cannot bear to see you live on single hour. If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible.”
So, the reality is: we desperately NEED the Lord’s Supper. When we come to the Lord’s Supper, we receive not just bread and wine, but we also receive Jesus’ body and blood. How it happens? We don’t know. When exactly it happens.?We don’t know. That it happens- that we know for sure, because Jesus says so. So as you partake in the Supper, yes you’re really eating bread, yes, you’re really drinking wine, but in a miraculous way, you’re also receiving the true body and blood of Jesus Himself. That’s amazing!
Just think, what if this morning instead of handing out bread and wine, we’d distribute 1 million dollar checks to every person who comes up. The checks are yours, they’re real. How would people react? Do you think any one would miss next time? But what’s worth more? A million dollars or the body and blood of God? It’s obvious! What price could we put on Jesus’ body and blood? It’s priceless! And God gives his true body and blood to whom? To you! “Take and eat this is my body given for YOU! This is my blood shed for YOU!” God Himself is willing to give you Himself! And all for what? Your forgiveness. So you can touch, taste, see, hear your forgiveness personally and individually. With the Supper He sweeps away any doubts about His love for us, for if He is willing to give you Himself, His true body and blood, then there’s nothing he won’t do for you!
And that’s why it’s so crucial to understand and hold on to this truth – the truth that we really do receive Jesus’ body and blood in the sacrament. It’s not just a symbol, it’s not just a sign, it’s not just a representation. Rather, there’s a remarkable reality and a rich reward in the Supper. In it God gives you confidence. You don’t face life thinking, “I hope I’ll go to heave someday.” Rather, God wants you to humble, yet confidently say, “I know I’m going to heaven.” I have Jesus’ body and blood given to me in the Sacrament all for my forgiveness.
Jack Wurm might have got a large sum of money for looking into a note he found in a bottle. But you get a far greater reward every time you receive the Lord’s Supper for in it, God gives you…Himself! Amen.